Networking: Why Social Media is the New Business Card
At a networking event you are your best asset, whether you were chosen to attend the event by your company or you made it your business to be there, there’s obviously something they saw in you or that called you to be at this particular place. Maybe you’re naturally confident person who excels at social situations, or perhaps you decided now is the time to start. Whatever the reason, here you are. Put your best foot forward and try to relax and people will gravitate to you accordingly.
Ask yourself, what is it that I want to get out of the event?
Have an open mind and realise that you may not leave with any immediate business opportunities but you might leave inspired or with a new contact whose position could prove advantageous in the future. Don’t set any expectations for the event, but rather for yourself. What will you accomplish by the end of the event? Start small and set yourself a realistic goal of speaking to at least five people before you leave or to listen more and speak less. Keep in mind networking isn’t supposed to be aggressive, this isn’t a sale pitch, it is a social event designed for exactly that; socialising.
Introduce yourself and what you do, but don’t go overboard
If people are interested they’ll make it known. On the other side of the scale, don’t rush from group-to-group as if you have somewhere better to be, doing so will make you appear disinterested. Maybe you are disinterested? Grin and bear it. Sarah might know Suzie who knows Mark who knows Tom and so on and so forth. Putting your best foot forward isn’t a curtsey reserved only to those you see immediate value in. That lady or man you’ve been talking to was chosen to be here for some reason and if you listen long enough, you’ll find out why. Making two strong contacts is better than making ten you rushed and who you have now left with a poor impression.
So how do you make the right impression?
Listen and ask questions, encourage others to join the conversation and soak everything up like an information sponge. You’ll be thankful for it later when you’re not kicking yourself for forgetting that guy in the blue tie and brown brogues’ name who you were supposed to follow up with.
Once you have a few networking events under your belt shake things up a little bit. If you’ve only been attending events with a common theme or located within a certain radius from your residence or workplace, maybe it’s time to branch out. For example, if you have been attending events that are focused on social media maybe it’s time to explore entrepreneurship, or if you had ruled out an event because of a lengthy commute – suck it up. Who knows what opportunity you might miss because you don’t want to make an extra tram ride.
And finally, whatever you do, do not pester people to take your business card, do not wave it under people’s noses, do not waste time searching your suit pockets for which one you stuffed them in. All that time and energy you spent on getting the perfect design, finding a printer and deciding matte or shine, is time you could have spent preparing for this event. Social media is the new business card, and the responsibility lies solely in your hands not theirs. Job one is making a good impression, job two is following up connections post event. Palming off business cards at events has become looked on as invasive whereas following up post event implies an interest in further discussion in the future. Try to stick to one to two social platforms, waking up to a request on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Linkedin/Google+ all at once might make them feel like they have a stage-four-clinger on their hands.
People want to be listened to, that want to be asked questions and to be somewhat validated. Giving out business cards at networking events says ‘I have an agenda’ and calls your credibility into question. So chuck those business cards in the bin or find a better purpose for them, perhaps coasters, and start preparing your elevator length intro and prepping your listening ears – it’s go time.